Thursday, June 30, 2011


While business increases at work, and I am on the end of a really long straight run at work, and due to a link posted on a facebook page somewhere I have an uber-upgraded amount of views in the last week, I really wanted to get a technical post together. On my dinner menu at the restaurant I have a bracket that reads "off the boat" a direct shot at the classic fish house. There is no price listed, no description, and no wine pairing. Seeking out cool stuff to sell for that part of my menu, and educating my staff on how to cook and describe them is one of the coolest parts of my job. Since this menu debuted I have had the opportunity to work with seafood I would have never been able to encounter otherwise. The only boundaries are that the product is fresh, and is local as well. Ideally it gives us an opportunity to sell things that pop-up for a few weeks a year, or even by-product catches that are only available for about 15 minutes before they are passed to the next eager chef in line. That scenario has skyrocketed me to the top of the call list when cool stuff is coming out of my local waters. My fish purveyors know that I only want the stuff no one else has, and because the price is flexible on the menu I can pay a lot, or just a little. Black cod, ling cod, spot prawns, oysters, whole Dungeness crabs, Springer salmon, Albacore tuna, perch, sea bass, red snapper, petrale and dover sole and more have all taken their run on the menu, usually lasting no more than three to five days. Then I am on to something new. The gambling on how much of each item we will sell over a weekend is a game every week for me, and provides a shear satisfaction when I am successful with my hypothesis.

Of all of them sturgeon is one of my favorite to eat. An amazingly ugly prehistoric creature that locally in our Columbia River is rumored to reach over 16 ft long and weigh close to 1000 lbs. Locally they can swim in fresh and salt water, and can live to be 100 or so years old, not even reaching sexual maturity until they are around the age of 20 yrs. Sturgeon eggs are also the only egg that can be technically called caviar. While we see other fish eggs as garnishes in dishes it has to be called "roe". Early this century the desire for caviar led the sturgeon to be so highly prized for its eggs that its meat was often ignored, and like the stories of the American buffalo it was almost driven into extinction in parts of the world for our glutenous approach to it. Thankfully stocks for the most part have returned, and the sturgeon I buy (Columbia River White) is almost always a by-product catch of the local salmon fisheries. Recreational the season opened in mid April and I had the chance to go out on a charter with some friends, and while we didn't catch anything, and I am not much a fisherman, I still had a blast. The days tag cost me only about $17, and in the right conditions you can catch them off the some of the piers and jetties in the area. If you have a hankering to get your hands on some then get a tag and a pole, as it will be almost impossible to find even at a very good fish mongers.

The flesh of a sturgeon is very fatty, and the fat tastes like dirt. It all has to be removed, sometimes even having a yellowish hue to it, the skin side is even worse, laced with a redish purple fat and a cartilage line carrying down through the middle of the skin side. Often I will trim almost 30% of the side off to get to the perfect flesh. This is the inside (bone side) side of sturgeon I was working with a few days ago. When I work on my cutting board with high end beef the marbling throughout the cut will begin to render with the heat of my hands and the friction of the knife. It leaves a thin film of fat on my hands, board, scale, and knife, and sturgeon does the exact same thing. Making for a slippery and sharp situation. It also has a different smell to it, not necessarily bad, but different. Really fresh salmon, or halibut for that mater doesn't really have a smell, or maybe just a slight aroma of oceanic brine, but sturgeon is very aggressive comparatively.

The magic of sturgeon is the taste. The texture of the meat itself is much "meatier" then any other fin fish I have had. Often on my menu I try to play with that- pairing it on the menu with a preparation that is much more classically done with a steak of some sort. It is the only fish that can stand up to those aggressive flavors and techniques. I find a piece of trim salted and seared to medium to be one of the best things I could possibly be eating anywhere at that given moment. It always boggles my mind when a creature that ugly, with spines, and whiskers, that lives that long could be good for anything but crab bait. But I will bend over backwards to get it, cook it, or eat it. It is always received very well in my dinning room as well, and when that happens it always makes me happy to know that my customers are appreciative of this fantastic creature that due to its age, size, and time as a species on planet earth deserves nothing but the uppermost respect.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The best way to raise money for a charitable cause is usually to feed people well. Sure raffles, auctions, and other stunts will attract "customers" but the idea of eating is appealing to everyone. As a chef I am lucky to be involved in so many different fundraisers throughout the year. Some I do on the curtails of the company, while others are personal decisions, done on my own time. Cannon Beach children's center, Clatsop County Food Bank, Clatsop County United Way, Seaside Heights Elementary, Seaside High Prostart, Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, Oregon Zoo, and the Make a Wish Foundation are all causes that I have executed food for in the last year. While the swaray of the actual events isn't always attended by me personally, my food or the restaurant's food is often called upon to help these causes. As chefs the requests can get frustrating. As a company we have to have some boundaries, some causes that we focus on, and others horribly we have to decline. At the end of the day food isn't free, or even cheap, and neither is the labor of those individuals involved. Add to that the removal of one or more of your key staff members for an evening, transportation, rooms to stay in the city as needed, etc and you have a huge financial obligation for a business that operates on an extremely slim profit margin in the best case scenario. We simply can't be involved in every event we are invited to.

Tomorrow I am cooking a benefit dinner solo, off the company clock at Broadway Middle School in Seaside for a 13 yr old girl who just had a brain tumor removed, and is now on a chemotherapy schedule that will last until she is out of high school. She is the sister of one of my best friends, and I can't help but to get emotional thinking about the road to recovery she will have to endure for years to come. As a parent, the thought of having a child in that situation is sickening, and my thoughts go out to any of you who have had to endure the loss, or extended recovery of a loved one. Anything I can do to help this family is still not enough. We talked earlier this month about the logistics of making an event like this happen, and I agreed to call in some big favors. The kitchen at Broadway was donated as she is a student there, a kitchen that I hadn't seen until this afternoon, and we are expecting about 240ppl. The menu will be as simple as we could pull off. A choice of roasted prime rib, or roasted chicken, potatoes, asparagus, and a dinner roll all for the cool price of $20/ per person. While the menu doesn't push any sort of culinary boundaries it is extremely important in situations like this to appeal to the general public. A time to execute the food perfectly, not a time to show off my ego.

Graciously I had a few purveyors that ponied up big to help me with this. Local potatoes, and local asparagus were donated, and Prime rib was sold to me for cost, and two each of the ten ribs I bought were donated. Chicken was sold at cost as well. I am fortunate to have these people on my side, who at the drop of a hat will blow my mind with generosity. Purveyors who stear me in the right direction anytime I go looking for some crazy off the wall cut of meat or piece of produce. Purveyors whom I have been crafting a relationship with for years now. When you are in charge of purchasing what I purchase, and require it to be received in the shape I demand, these relationships are worth their weight in gold.

Often in the past I have thought that my career would take me anywhere I wanted to go. Melissa and I have always been precarious about owning a home or anything else that would really strap us down in this community, as my work options, if not for the company I am with now, are extremely limited here in our little corner of Oregon. More and more though I come to the realization that I am here for a reason. Like my purveyors, my relationships in the community run very deep. I am flattered and honored to be asked to execute this event for this girl and family that are in such need. I am grateful that I get to cook the meal in a kitchen, in the same school that I attended as a 7th and 8th grader. I feel more gratification readying and executing a meal like this than I do doing almost any other type of event in my line of work. I am proud to be part of this community, and proud that I can help those in need with the talents that everyone presumes I have. Now I just have to not screw it up. Thanks for reading.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dear Blog

Dear Blog-

I have not forgotten you. I potentially may have underestimated how much more work being an Executive chef would be. I have been aggressively attempting to staff my kitchen with the best cooks possible, and ringing every ounce of skill out of my existing ones. The days have gotten longer, and the restaurant much busier. The movement of product through the kitchen and dining room, even for me, is mind boggling at some points. Even on my days off I make phone calls, write emails, and respond to requests at a rate which Melissa is never very excited about just because I haven't had the chance to approach them at any other time. All of the sudden I am called in to meetings with people who don't understand my work load and by kitchen standards (the only standards I know) are extremely unproductive gatherings. 

Melissa and I have also made an offer that was accepted on a home in Gearhart a few miles north of where we live now, catch is that the home is only about 70% finished right now, so we are extremely busy figuring out carpets, granite, tile, paints etc, to guide the builder while he finishes. Needless to say though the kitchen will be finished to a spec I am so excited about. With solid work surfaces, and plenty of them, two ovens, gas range, some pretty cool appliances and easy access to the back patio, and a huge back yard (think brick oven in the coming months, garden, chickens!). Best case scenario we hope to be moving in late Julyish. Still a tad bit worried things could go south but we are working with an extremely motivated builder and we have been looking for so long, we are trying to keep a very positive attitude about the whole thing. Also I bought a truck that needed quite a bit of work but is in progress as well, and looks much better then it did when I picked it up last week.

I did plant some simple things in the garden here but am worried to go much more deeper then that, as the thought of ripping it all out to move is a tough one and waste of valuable time. Radishes, snap peas, and some super big pumpkins as well as some various herbs, tomatoes, and even some flowers are all absorbing sunlight and growing really well.

Last week the four chefs in the company also sat down to pencil a James Beard menu for October, and I am excited about the things we came up with. The attempt is to cook only things that were grown or harvested within a range of 100 miles from the restaurant, and to really showcase some foods that we are known for. It seems odd to be going with our same old stuff, the stuff we order, prep and sell every day but at the end of the day I think we wisely decided that those are the same foods we want to showcase in that forum. As we finalize menus and make small adjustments I will of course keep you all posted. The bios for the chefs all had to be received by the foundation last week sometime, and the menu is supposed to be approved by them by mid June so we are attempting to hustle this process as much as possible. Whatever is decided I know it will be fantastic, and again am so looking forward to the opportunity to be in NY, and cooking this dinner.

The Executive chef changes are happening as well. A new bio is being worked on for the website, an interview with the marketing person from my culinary school scheduled to use for some Internet media sources, and a press release is in the final stages of being approved by myself and the company before it is released to the local papers and trade magazines. New jackets are on back order (my chef coats take quite a bit of fabric), and my paychecks show a dollar amount I grin about. The tag on my work email still makes me laugh a bit. In a meeting with a director of Clatsop Community College as well as the principal of Seaside High School the other day to discuss the future of our budget cut prone program "Prostart" I introduced myself as the Executive chef and then quickly explained to him that I just like saying that, he laughed and made me do it again.

Progress is being made, and work is always happening. I apologize for my lack of technical posts in the last few months and hope to be getting back to talking ingredients and how my readers can approach them in a better manner. Local morel mushrooms, sturgeon, ramps, spring onions, radishes, and local asparagus are all things I am working pretty heavily with in the restaurant. This blog has definitely helped me more then I can explain to really get to the nitty gritty about what my own food is. Which is good because people are expecting to hear about it and eat it more often then ever. It has forced me to define and refine the ingredients, and techniques that I am passionate about, and when I think about why I started writing it, that is the biggest reason. Honestly- after a long haul in a kitchen I am always excited to write things that are my personal opinion, that aren't a reflection of other managers, operators, owners, or a whole company. It feels really good to be able to talk about things going on in this genius forum that blogger has given us, as I think it encourages me to talk from a much more personal level then I would with anyone else ever. Thanks for hanging in there with me.